Evidence from the #iwill campaign for DfE’s written call for evidence on Character
There is lots of evidence from across the #iwill campaign that demonstrates the power social action has to develop and empower young people to be compassionate, active citizens, and, in turn, the impact this can have on communities. Below is a summary of top lines for demonstrating the impact social action has and how it develops young people’s character and transforms communities.
This summary is with thanks to #iwill partners across sectors, particularly those in research and education. The post includes:
- What are the benefits of youth social action for young people and communities?
- What role do schools play in developing compassionate, active citizens through youth social action?
- Embedding youth social action in schools and colleges is a critical lever to tackling persistent social mobility issues in the UK
What are the benefits of youth social action for young people and communities?
By participating in youth social action young people develop their character:
- At the launch of the #iwill campaign, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) pledged to run two RCTs of youth social action programmes – one active in Primary schools, Children’s University, and the other in Secondary schools, Youth United. Both RCTs showed positive impacts on character qualities, or essential life skills, and particularly the intervention in Primary.
- In 2016 the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) corroborated this link with their RCTs of several social action programmes that embed the six quality principles of youth social action and the results showed that young people who participated had robust improvement in character qualities like empathy, cooperation, resilience, problem-solving and sense of community.
- In 2015 the Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues conevend cross sector partners to develop a statement about youth social action and character development which reads:‘Through a dedication to social action the character of young people and the communities they live in can be transformed.’
They develop the skills employers want:
- In 2015, 85% of employers surveyed by the CBI said they prioritise character & attitude over academic results. This trend of valuing broader skills sets has continued with the same survey in 2018.
- A CIPD survey in 2015 reported that 67% of employers say candidates with social action demonstrate better employability skills.
- In 2016, a survey of young people revealed that 81% of those participating in meaningful social action believe it will help them get a job in the future.
- Creativity is also considered a key skill for work and life and a 2018 report from the RSA found that young people who describe themselves as creative feel more confident that they can make a difference in their communities
They experience greater well being and improved mental health:
- The National Youth Social Action Survey has been running annually since 2014, carrying out face-to-face interviews with young people across the UK aged 10-20. It has consistently shown that social action is associated with higher levels of well-being and that young people participating in social action have stronger personal networks.
- Evaluations of youth social action programmes have also supported this link to well-being. NCS graduates consistently show higher levels of life satisfaction compared to the national average, whilst taking part in the Scouts or Guides appears to help lower the risk of mental illness in later life. Furthermore the Wildlife Trust has shown volunteering in nature improves mental wellbeing with more than two thirds of participants reporting an improvement after just 6 weeks. In one of the BIT-tested youth social action programmes for Primary School, called Go-Givers, young people reported reduced anxiety by over a fifth.
Youth Social Action can improve attainment:
- The EEF’s RCTs focussing on in-school social action, find that peer tutoring has shown a positive impact on learning, equivalent to approximately 5 additional months’ progress.
- The EEF RCT with Children’s University shows social action activities have a positive impact on maths and reading in KS2, as well as non-cognitive outcomesii.
- A meta-analysis of 62 RCTs completed in the United States reveals that when social action was integrated into the curriculum there was an improvement in academic performance.
Through participation in social action, communities become better integrated:
- The Social Integration Commission recommends youth social action as a way to address the lack of social integration that costs our economy an estimated £6bn each year.
- Engaging young people with vulnerable groups in health & social care settings increases understanding and tolerance of these groups, leading to enhanced community integration and understanding, increased community networks and capacity.
There are significant benefits to starting social action young:
- Those who first get involved in service to others under the age of 10 were found to be more than two times more likely to have formed a habit of service than if they started their social action aged 16-18.
What role do schools play in developing compassionate, active citizens through youth social action?
- Schools are the key route into youth social action for ALL young people (National Youth Social Action Survey 2014-18)
- Since 2016, more teachers in secondary say youth social action is part of their school culture and practice (73% 2018 vs 48% 2016 – NFER Teacher Voice Omnibus)
- More Primary school teachers say the same, though they are doing less than Secondaries (18% 2016 vs 48% 2018)
- 87% of teachers wished their school prepared their students to have a positive difference to society, but only 37% think their school actually does (YouGov, TeacherTapp, Big Change 2019)
- Young people who are doing social action say their school treats them differently to those who don’t (National Youth Social Action Survey 2018)
- 68% (who have participated in social action) believe “at our school pupils have a say in planning and organising activities and school events” compared to 27% who haven’t participated
- 70% say “at my school, my ideas are taken seriously” compared to 28% who haven’t participated.
- 83% say “I feel like I belong at this school” compared to 54% who have not participated.
- Over a third (42%) of young people aged 9-18 say they have learnt only a little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school.
- 68% are interested in learning more about the environment.
- 86% agree that ‘all schools and colleges should be doing things that help the environment.
Embedding youth social action in schools and colleges is a critical lever to tackling persistent social mobility issues in the UK
- There is a persistent socio-economic gap in participation reported by both young people and by teachers in schools
- The National Youth Social Action Survey shows the gap in participation between those from the most and least affluent backgrounds to be significant and persistent at 52% vs. 27% in 2018 – similar to the baseline of 51% vs 31% from the first survey in 2014.
- It is not that young people from lower income backgrounds have a lack of motivation or appetite to participate but instead that 70% of young people who don’t participate in social action identifying a range of barriers that prevent participation connected to opportunities and awareness of them.
- The appetite for social action remains strong: the majority of young people, 60% (2018) have taken part in some form of social action over the last 12 months.
- In 2014, 81% of secondary school pupils in England said they wanted their school to do more to support them to participate in social action. However there is a significant gap between those teaching in schools with the highest % of students receiving Free School Meals (FSM) compared to those with the lowest %FSM (40% highest%FSM vs. 69% lowest%FSM in 2018) according to NFER
- But the picture is improving – more schools serving the highest%FSM students are saying that youth social action is part of their school culture & practice (give stats – 69% in 2016 vs 41% in 2018)
- Research shows that schools are the most egalitarian route into social action – cumulative analysis of the national youth social action survey data indicates that at Key Stage 3 when the influence of school as a pathway into social action is strong for all socio-economic groups, there is little difference in engagement between young people from different backgrounds.
- The #iwill fund learning hub papers published in May 2019 show that the gap in participation in social action participation between the ages of 10-20 persists into adulthood as seen in adult volunteering statistics nationally.
- The paper suggests the best way to overcome this gap could be by focusing on peer-to-peer mentoring, whole school approaches, targeted opportunities using hooks such as football, and, making activities youth led.
- School and College leaders who embed youth social action so that all their students can participate say there are four key actions any school or college can do.
- Put youth social action at the heart of your school/college
- embed it in mission/vision/values;
- make it the lens to apply curriculum knowledge;
- appoint a senior leader to lead
- Inspire & reward youth social action
- recognise young people’s social action in & out of school;
- inspire with social action role-models;
- recruit staff who are committed
- Empower young people to lead
- ask their opinions & harness their passions;
- start as early as possible – 5 years old is not too young to make a difference
- Build partnerships to help young people have an impact
- local and national youth social action providers;
- local charities, employers, health & social care settings; environment centres etc;
- connect with other schools to share best practice
- Put youth social action at the heart of your school/college